Player-games: Arizona’s most ridiculous league-leading stat
NOTE: The following information is all based on the league’s statistics and participation charts. I’ve come across a few errors in gamelogs and I’m sure that the numbers may be slightly, slightly off. They still give a relatively accurate depiction of some pretty amazing feats of endurance and overcoming obstacles.
When the Arizona Rattlers beat the Spokane Shock handily last Friday, some insane fans began to intimate that head coach Rob Keefe should be fired for managing just a 9-9 record and a first-round playoff loss. Rather than just simply point out all the injuries, turnover, accession, and trades that ravaged the team this year, I went through and counted player-games for each of the teams that made the playoffs.
The numbers made Spokane’s season all the more amazing and the Rattlers’ relative ease of victory seem, in retrospect, blindingly obvious.
Using the participation charts and statistics pages, I went through the game books for the playoffs and counted the number of games each starter played with his particular team, since games played with another team hardly count toward team cohesion and bonding with their playoff team.
With 16 starters on offense and defense and 18 games in the season, that means each team had 288 player-games possible during the regular season. Here are numbers and percentages of player-games played for each playoff team’s starters.
Looking at Arizona’s health record, it’s no small wonder they managed to dominate the league so thoroughly over the course of the season. Their defense has missed a combined six player-games this season, three of which were due to linebacker Kevin McCullough’s IR stint late in the season. For all the worry about Rod Windsor’s accession to the NFL (By the way, if Windsor were to have played, Arizona’s player-games total would have risen to 267, an astonishing 92.7 percent of the possible total).
In an 18-game season defined by injuries, the Rattlers managed to come through virtually unscathed – 10 players managed to play all 18 games and another five played more than 16 (16 was chosen because it’s the fewest games a player can play without a stint on the IR).
The Shock, meanwhile, were the poster children for injuries, having to start four different quarterbacks and having only one player on offense or defense make it through all 19 games of the regular season plus Round 1 – Terrance Sanders.
Of the six players that played 16-plus games for the Shock, two of them didn’t make the trip to Arizona. Alex Teems was injured in the final week of the season in Jacksonville and Emery Sammons was replaced by Markee White after the UFL postponed operations indefinitely. The Spokane offense entered the game with 57 combined player-games between them, over half of those (31) coming from the recently returned Greg Orton (15) and fullback Clay Harrell (16), who is not much of an offensive threat.
Given those numbers, is it any surprise that the most cohesive unit in the league stifled the cut-and-paste Shock offense?
Keefe deserves credit for the other side of the ball, however. The Shock defense came into the game with the 15th-most player games of any unit in the playoffs (better than only the Shock offense) with 95. They managed to slow down an Arizona offense that, even without Rod Windsor, managed to put together the 7th-highest number of player-games with 115 and had excellent talent, as their OFF+ rating was second in the league to Jacksonville. The Rattlers’ 62 points was a façade – 20 of those points were scored against Spokane’s special teams and offensive units, and four of Arizona’s drives began inside the Spokane 10-yard line.
When a coach loses player after player to injury, promotion, or necessary trade, it’s damn near impossible to win. Whether you believe the relationship is causal or simply correlational, it’s clear that the most successful teams don’t lose a lot of player-games. Making the playoffs despite never having the same lineup in consecutive games is an amazing feat it its own right, and Keefe deserves a lot of credit for managing this team to the playoffs.
PREDICTIONS: I got wrapped up in other work and a job hunt and didn’t add rankings this week. Arizona and Jacksonville had the best numbers of the playoff teams and did nothing that would cause them to lose such commanding leads.
After a 4-0 week in the first round of the playoffs, I’m going to be boring and go with chalk in the second round. I’ll take Arizona and Jacksonville to meet in ArenaBowl XXIV in Phoenix, with the Rattlers earning the second title in a row for the West Division. They’ll also be the second consecutive champion to beat every opponent they faced throughout the season.
Brian Beaudry is a communications specialist for Cornell University's College of Arts and Sciences. He worked as an intern for the Spokane Shock in 2010 and 2011 and enjoys compiling unnecessary AFL data for fun. Contact him on Twitter @bgbeaudry.